"And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased." Luke 2:13-14
Suddenly is one of my favorite words in the Bible. God is not limited by time and space, but there are times I grow impatient with His pace. One of the most often quoted platitudes people share with me is, "God is never late." I have to admit it has provoked a cynical thought, and a caustic reaction from me over the years, "OK. Got it, but He is seldom early."
God seems to specialize in taking me to His waiting room, and bringing me to the end of myself. Once I become convinced that I am not in control, and I yield my plans into His capable hands, He moves quickly. God can do more in five minutes with my availability than I can do with 50 years of my ability.
Luke seems to have taken a page out of Mark's play book. His synonym for the sudden way God sometimes implemented His plans was "immediately." Check it out.
- "Immediately coming out of the water, He saw the heavens opening..." Mark 1:10
- "Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness..." Mark 1:12
- "Immediately they left their nets and followed Him." Mark 1:18
- "Immediately He called them..." Mark 1:20
See what I mean? Mark was a man who could see God at work in the present tense. Some people are convinced that God will always carry out His will with snail like perseverance, but never with a sudden, spontaneous explosion of His power.
The angelic messenger punctuated his message to the shepherds with a wall of sound resonating from the voices of the army of God. It must have been a soul stirring and spine tingling experience to hear rank upon rank of angels shouting at the top of their lungs. This was not a candlelight cantata or a contrived laser show at some bale of hay and a bath robe pageant. The "heavenly host" describes the legions of loyal angels bringing what they do in heaven to the hills of Bethlehem. This was an ancient army of warriors releasing centuries of pent up praise.
The praise of the "heavenly host" revealed the close relationship God desires to have with His people. He was worthy of angelic praise, but He finds pleasure in bringing peace on earth to His children. God sent an invading army of angels to announce His desire to establish peace in the lives of men of good will. If you are at war with God, lower your rebel flag. The war is over.
"Praising God" is the main reason angels exist. They often serve as messengers of God and guardians of men, but extolling, honoring, and glorifying God is job one before an audience of One. You might want to tune in to the Army-Navy game some time and listen to the yell practice that they engage in before the kickoff. The cadets of Army and the midshipmen of Annapolis are able to forge their voices into an awesome sound. The broadcast does not do it justice, but it is still an awe-inspiring exhibition.
In February 1996, I attended the Promise Keepers Clergy Conference in Atlanta. There were 60,000 representatives from a wide range of denominations and church disciplines. One of the speakers asked us to stand up, and take a moment to get acquainted. He asked us to shout out the name of our church or denomination, when he counted to three. With good humor, everyone gave a simultaneous shout out. It was total confusion. It was loud, boisterous, and utterly incomprehensible. Without missing a beat, he asked us to remain standing, and shout out The Name, The Name that was above every other name. He counted to three, and everyone in the Georgia Dome thundered, "JESUS!" It was a breathtaking moment. The memory of what I heard almost 14 years still sends a chill down my spine and warms my heart at the same time. I had never heard anything like it. The conference leader pointed out that our first response is what the world hears, when Christians glorify their invention more than Christ. He challenged us to make sure that we would never lose our focus on Who God had sent into the world to transform the world into a giant "Lost and Found."
The Christmas season is a great time to lift up the name of Jesus. Denominational differences, and church schisms have fractured the lens of our magnifying glass. Too often people who need to hear about Jesus are never introduced to Him, even in church. A style of music is glorified or a tradition is magnified, but Jesus is not lifted up. I know lost people cannot worship. I get that. However, they may not be able to speak words of praise, but they certainly are able to hear God's people praise Him, and see the reflection of His glory on their faces. When the angels shouted out praise to God, they did not have their nose in a hymnal or their tongue wrapped around their favorite chorus. They were not extras in a pageant or window dressing for a cantata. They were serious minded warriors banding together in a unified force of praise that pointed people to God as the source of peace for their lives. "Glory to God in the Highest!"
There are only 16 shouting days until Christmas. It may be kind of sudden, but here it comes,